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How to decide if you should take a gap year after college

Published April 17, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    Many students opt to take a gap year between high school and college. There’s another gap year that some students consider beyond that one, though – taking a gap year between graduating from college and their next steps, whether that’s graduate school or entering the workforce. Instead of diving deep into your next life goal, in this gap year, you may take time off to travel, build your skills, recharge, or care for your family, among other uses of your time.

    While a gap year can provide you with many opportunities, it may not be for everyone. So, how do you know if taking a gap year after college is the right decision for you? Let’s break down what you can do during a gap year and the pros and cons of it to help you make an informed decision.

    What can you do during a gap year after college?

    If you’re considering a gap year after college, here are a range of ways you can spend your time:

    • Enroll in a gap year program
    • Volunteer
    • Work, study, or volunteer abroad
    • Focus on your family
    • Boost your mental and physical health
    • Travel
    • Complete a training program or internship
    • Take classes to boost a particular skill
    • Learn a new language
    • Explore a passion you don’t believe you can turn into a career
    • Conduct or join a research project
    • Teach
    • Embark on a spiritual journey
    • Do environmental work
    • Try to start a business

    Is it a good idea to take a gap year after college?

    There isn’t a right or wrong answer to whether a gap year after college is a good idea. Deciding if this is the right choice for you depends on your circumstances and long-term goals.

    For those wanting to enter the workforce after college, some career experts believe setting an intention for a gap year is better than coasting without a purpose after college.

    “While job-hunting, [employers would] rather hear you took a gig driving for Lyft, traveled extensively to experience other cultures, or took a course at a local college than to hear you weren’t doing anything except applying to jobs during your time off,” career expert at TopResume Amanda Augustine told CNBC.

    For those interested in pursuing graduate school after college and considering a gap year, there are many advantages to this choice, including getting the chance to make sure it’s truly the right choice and getting the opportunity to explore different graduate school programs.

    While there are many advantages to a gap year, there are also disadvantages. Taking a gap year after college can delay the start of a professional career, potentially putting individuals behind their peers regarding work experience and career progression. Additionally, the break in being in an academic or structured work environment can lead to a loss of routine and study habits, making it challenging to re-enter the workforce or pursue educational goals.

    Because there’s no one right choice, weigh the pros and cons of this choice for your particular circumstances.

    Pros of taking a gap year after college

    Here are some potential pros when it comes to taking a gap year to think about.

    • It may offer the opportunity for self-discovery, independence, and personal growth.
    • It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel, do social work, or do something else that will be challenging to accomplish once you start graduate school or a career.
    • It may provide skill development opportunities.
    • It may be helpful if you’re experiencing burnout or health conditions or need time off for family responsibilities.
    • It may provide you with networking opportunities.
    • It may help to reduce stress and improve your academic or professional performance in the long term.
    • It may help to increase your employability depending on the skills and experiences you accrue during a gap year.
    • It may provide the opportunity to properly assess graduate degree programs if that’s the route you want to take after college.

    Cons of taking a gap year after college

    There are some potential downsides to taking a gap year. Here are some to consider.

    • It may leave a gap in your resume that not all employers will look upon favorably.
    • Depending on how you use the gap year, it may be a financial burden.
    • Planning a gap year may be stressful and filled with uncertainty.
    • You may lose out on one year of potential career or academic growth.
    • It may mean less access to college services to help with applying to graduate school and jobs.
    • The loss of momentum with a gap year may be challenging for some.

    How to take (and make the most) of a gap year after college

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to taking a gap year, and there’s no formal process involved. Taking a gap year after college is a personal decision you don’t have to publicly announce unless you want to.

    Before you decide to take a gap year, you may want to map out your intentions for the gap year and what you hope to gain from it. You also may want to make sure that your gap year plan makes financial sense for you. If you plan on traveling or enrolling in a program, you’ll want to review your finances to make sure your plan makes sense and then consider creating a budget for the year.

    Lastly, creating a plan of action for what you want to do after your gap year may be beneficial. For instance, do you want to attend graduate school or apply for jobs once your gap year ends? You may not want to wait until the year is over to start pursuing your next goals, and having a plan in place may be helpful.

    Final thoughts

    While many people think gap years after high school are the only types of gap years, you can take time off after college, too. Before rushing into the decision, you may want to consult with a career counselor or mentor to see if the decision is right for you. While taking a gap year may provide a range of opportunities, like broadening your skill sets or exposing you to different cultures, it’s up to you to use this time intentionally.